Two of my four children are at Jewish summer camp for their first full session. I’m OK. They’ll be home in 26 days. Despite their nerves, they were excited to reunite with their friends from the short session they attended last year. I can certainly use the time to catch up on work after spending the past several weeks shopping for toiletries, counting shorts, stamping names onto socks and cramming everything into duffel bags. I’m certainly not complaining about the lack of laundry. I’ve discovered that a container of strawberries can actually last more than one day.
But OK, fine, I’m actually not OK.
I’m spending much of my time refreshing my browser, waiting, wishing and hoping to catch the exact moment their camp posts new photos. Once they do, I’m frantically scrolling through the albums from the previous days, enlarging, squinting, searching for their faces, their hats, their shirts. The slightest glimpse will fill my soul, ease my worry and hold me over for another few days, until the next albums are posted. In the meantime, I’ll save the photos to my “favorites” albums and download them onto my computer. Then I’ll upload them into my favorite app so I can create a photo book at the summer’s end.
But pictures don’t distract me from constantly checking my email for the thrilling subject line telling me one of my campers has written. I read quickly the first time through, then reread more slowly, soaking up all the details. I relish in learning their new friends’ names, the layout of their cabin, their assigned chugim and any other nuggets of information they share. Exquisite phrases like, “Camp is fun,” “I love the girls in my cabin,” and, “Drum roll please, I passed my swimming test,” leave me giddy. This is not an exaggeration.
I’ve been pondering how we got here. I wasn’t an overnight camp kid, and if I’m being truthful, I never thought I’d be an overnight camp mom. I sat in a preschool classroom for weeks at the beginning of the year with a child who refused to separate. I left that same child crying in kindergarten for months as she got used to the separation. My husband participated in ballet birthday parties, the only adult among a sea of girls in pink tutus, his hand gripped by the tiny fingers of a daughter who didn’t want to let go.
But in the blink of an eye, as we stood in the parking lot of our synagogue, let go is exactly what they both did. With their carefully packed duffels stashed under the bus and their backpacks and tackle boxes in hand, they bravely boarded a bus that would take them over the Canadian border, seven hours from home.
By all accounts, the experience is everything a mother wants for her children. Building confidence. Making new friends. Discovering new skills, talents, likes and dislikes. Trusting their instincts. Developing a sense of who they are while strengthening their Jewish identity. It’s an incredible experience, one that they are fortunate to have. I am in awe of their bravery, of their ability to calm their anxiety about a new experience and welcome all it has to offer.
Meanwhile, back at home, I’m reflecting on the words a friend shared last summer, as her kids experienced their first summer at camp. “No one tells you that you’ll spend the whole time your kids are gone wishing they were home.”
And that’s the truth. I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d miss them, for how much their siblings would miss them, for how different our home and our family would feel without them. I wasn’t prepared for the conflicting emotions — being so excited for them to learn to trust themselves, while wondering why I thought I should send my 10-year-olds off to spend nearly a month away from home at such a young age.
As I talk to more and more camp parents and peruse posts on social media, I have realized that so many of us feel the same way. As is the case with most things in parenting, two things can be true. We can so desperately want our kids to have the experiences that strengthen them and help them grow, while wanting to hold on to them just a little bit longer. We can watch so proudly as they immerse themselves in both Jewish and camp traditions, while missing their faces and their voices at our family Shabbat celebrations.
Will my kids become the type of kids who live for summer, so excited to get back through the gates to be among their camp friends? Will this camp routine become our new summer normal? When my girls are back home, we’ll start to explore those questions. Until then, I’ll continue to find comfort in my summer routine. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.